Slamet Hendry

learningorg

Nov 2008

Innovation beyond the buzzword

Although it is true that not all innovations come out of innovative companies, innovative companies consistently innovate. And they are able to consistently innovate due to their innovation culture.

Many companies market themselves as being innovative, and in many cases, that is all there is, a marketing claim. Innovation has become a popular buzzword. Being called innovative is fashionable. Read many companies' marketing brochures and annual reports, and it is not too hard to find references to self-proclaimed innovation.

But being truly innovative is in the eye of the beholder, as evidenced by result. An “innovative” product or service that does not meet customers' need is hardly innovative. It is either the wrong time, the wrong interpretation, the wrong market, or any combination of the above. For example, a scientist discovers a new compound to treat an incurable disease, but the side effect of the treatment is so adverse that the drug would never get approved. Or an engineer invents a new super cool gadget, but the manufacturing cost is too prohibitively expensive. In both examples, the innovations do not materialise.

Innovative product or service comes from the practice of innovation. To produce innovations consistently, companies need to pervasively embed the practice of innovation in every day life of the organisation. In other words, they need to make it into an innovation culture.

The following discussion explores some key aspects of innovation culture.

Unified leadership

At the heart of every corporate culture is the culture of the leadership team — they greatly influence how their corporate culture shapes over time. Leadership team that is passionately unified in their attitude toward innovation behaviours will foster middle management that behaves likewise. And in turn, the middle managers will manage their teams accordingly. And in tough times, leadership team needs to fight off the tendency to halt or cut back innovation initiatives.

Big picture view

Innovation culture is about the whole company, not just the Research and Development department or the Marketing department, etc, etc. Innovation is sustainable when the company as a whole thinks and breathes innovation. Heroic effort from some people may be able to to produce an innovative product or service, but if the rest of the company does not live the innovation culture, they will slow down the rate of further innovations.

Continuous learning

The world does not stand still and competition does not disappear in the face of innovation. Competitors respond to each other and will try to out-innovate the last innovation. Once a company shakes the industry with its innovation, the rest of the industry responds, and the cycle does not stop. The question is, who is going to come out and remain on top?

Listening mindset

Given the true measure of innovation is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak, sensitivity to “listen” to the customer is imperative. Listen to what the customers say and do not say, and what they do and do not do. “Listening” is a discipline that everyone in the organisation need to engage in.

Execution

At the heart of a consistently-innovative company is the ability to execute well. A brilliant idea alone does not make an awesome product or service. What good is a product that wins accolades from critics, but despised by customers due to poor quality? What good is a unique service if it cannot be replicated or scaled up to satisfy clients? This is indeed the ingredient that is often missing: being innovative to execute well.

#learningorg #design #obxerve

Aug 2008

Best practice can be wrong

The phrase “best practice” is so popular in management circles and consultants that they are sometimes mis-applied by well-meaning individuals.

By definition, “best” implies that a comparative analysis has been completed, whose conclusion is that the “practice” in discussion is deemed to be better than any other known alternatives. Naturally, if someone claims “best practice”, then he or she is expected to be able to supply the comparative analysis to support such claim. More often than not, such comparative analysis is non-existent or, at best, flawed.

Even in scenario where such comparative analysis exists, “best” needs to be put within context. Some business practices are not applicable across industries. For example, some practices in the defense industry do not make sense to be copied by a paper clip manufacturer. And vice versa, a defense contractor cannot adopt some practices that produce “best” result for a paper clip manufacturer if it is to meet the minimum government requirement on defense contracting.

Another potential mis-application is in the word “practice”. A common story goes: Company C did “best practice” X, and got performance Y. So it is assumed that if X is copied, then Y should be repeatable outside of company C. That is a big assumption that undermines many differences among companies. More often than not, other companies cannot duplicate X due to many variables (even company C may not be able to repeat X and Y consistently year after year). It is not that X must be done, but the desired net effect is performance Y (or better). Thus the intended use of “best practice” is actually not the “practice” itself, but the result.

The difference is not just semantics; it is real enough that chasing the wrong “best practice” can yield a negative return on investments. The following gives some ideas on what to look for before implementing an improvement initiative based on “best practice”.

Metrics Analysis: If the performance of the business practice is not measurable, then it is difficult to factually justify why it needs to be improved in the first place. Also, the ability to measure the performance, before and after, provides the confirmation that the improvement initiative works.

Root Cause Analysis: Before too much is invested, it is wise to know what the current performance level is and why it is not where it should be. Adopting a “best practice” that will not address the root cause of poor performance is wasteful.

Impact Analysis: Even when a “best practice” can address the root cause and can demonstrably improve a performance metric, the impact to the overall organisation needs to be understood. It may affect more than one metric, and more importantly, it may affect the other metric in the wrong way. Putting more money to the left pocket with money that comes from the right pocket, does not increase the total amount of money.

Continuous Improvement: Nothing stands still – business environment changes all the time, and companies change too. A business practice that is good for a company in one year, may lead to negative impact in another year. A common mistake is to say, “we have always done it this way and we will continue to do it this way.”

In closing, what is “best practice” for one company at a given time may not be the right one for another company.

#learningorg #obxerve

Aug 2008

Reinventing the wheel can be good

Whoever popularised the phrase “do not reinvent the wheel” obviously did not work in the tyre / tire industry, nor raced professionally. In these cases, “reinventing the wheel” is a key ingredient to success. And yet, the phrase is so ingrained in everyday corporate language, that people say it without thinking it through.

Many would argue that it is just semantics. In the case of the tyre / tire or auto industry, that is product improvement, and the “wheel” is the product, so of course it needs to be “reinvented”. Maybe, but that is not the point. As is typical with other idiomatic metaphor, the point is not in the literal, but in the implied. The need for “reinvention” is valid.

To differentiate between a valid “reinvention”, metaphorically, versus an unnecessary one, one needs to analyse the circumstance: is it ignorant or is it intentional? When “reinvention” is conducted without prior understanding that “the wheel” already exists, and thus “reinvention” is incorrectly assumed to be needed, then it is ignorant “reinvention”. On the other hand, when there is a clear end in mind and “reinvention” is decided as a means to the end, then it is intentional reinvention.

When department X needs to track some data, and department Y of the same company already has a good-enough spreadsheet to do the job, is it known to department X that the spreadsheet can be re-used? Or does department X thinks, unknowingly, that they need to create the spreadsheet?

When a disease already has a drug that treats it, does it make business sense to develop another drug to treat the same disease? If the new drug has less side effects while being at least as effective, then yes. Even between groups or departments in the same company, if there is a clear need for a better “wheel”, then yes, please “reinvent” it.

The pitfall to this, clearly, is the “not invented here” syndrome. And to minimise this, the keyword is “prior understanding”. Is it properly understood that “the wheel” truly does not exist? And if it exists, is it properly understood that it is not good enough? If “the wheel” exists and is good enough, then “reinventing” it is a waste of time and resources. Whereas not knowing the answer is simply ignorant.

So, the next time someone utters he or she does not want to “reinvent the wheel”, take a moment to reflect and evaluate the circumstance. Is it because the existing “wheel” is properly understood to be good enough, or is it because of ignorance or, God forbids, laziness?

#learningorg #obxerve

08 Aug 2008

OSD Methodology: 'Observe – Strategise – Do'

Observe

  • Master both in-depth subject matter expertise and clear understanding of related factors within the big picture.
  • Observe continuously with open mind.
  • Consult others to eliminate blind spots.
  • Learn from the past and identify potential trends before they become forces to reckon.

Strategise

  • Avoid being put in reactive mode; be proactive and “expect the unexpected.”
  • Aim high and yet stay grounded.
  • Be open and promote shared understanding.
  • Prevent the strategy from collecting dust; keep observing that it stays relevant.

Do

  • Live the strategy; avoid empty words and lead by example.
  • Delegate and empower, but do not loose touch.
  • Balance asking for result with giving resources to produce the result.
  • Strive for excellence and, at the same time, be patient.
  • And while doing, be observant.

#learningorg #obxerve

Note: “Expect the unexpected” is a quote from Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation

12 Mar 1998

Diversity

I think diversity can enhance the bottom line for team based organisation, in general. The keyword here is “team based.” I have two assumptions.

  1. “Together Everyone Achieves More,” i.e. 1+1+1+1=5.

  2. The best performing team consists of diverse members whose diversity complements each other.

Therefore, when they manage the organisation in ways that most of the teams consists of complimentarily-diverse-team members, then they will get the best possible output that their talent pool can give. Thus in this case, diversity adds to the bottom line, and not just numbers.

Non team based organisation can still benefit from diversity, but probably less since they have less means to tap into the potential.

www.learning-org.com/98.03/0148.html

#learningorg

05 Feb 1998

It’s a lifetime assignment

A kid watched the TV news and found out there are wars, hungers, robbery, and so many crisis in the world. In despair, the kid asked God: “Why didn't you send help?”

God replied: “I did. I sent you.”

God sends each of us to help in making the world a better place to live. It's not a two weeks or a six month project. It's a lifetime assignment that we often forget.

www.learning-org.com/98.02/0076.html

#quotes #learningorg

19 Dec 1997

Insurrection and protest

Replying to LO16268

Citing Arie de Geus' book – The Living Companies, a company should mimic the living being by executing strategies that aim for longevity.

If we agree with Arie's proposition, then “destroying” may seem to be not an option. But when we re-interpret the word “destroy” to mean forsaking the initial vision, to adopt a new vision as a different company, then “destroying” (more appropriately, re-inventing) is a necessary thing for an ill company.

I envision the myth of the Phoenix legend, who was burned down (“destroyed”), but then lived again and rose up from the ashes.

www.learning-org.com/97.12/0240.html

#learningorg

25 Nov 1997

Resistance to change

In the book Managing at the Speed of Change by Conner, he illustrated a large gear, connected to two medium gears, which in turn each is connected to two small gears. When the large gear rotates a little – say a quarter of a rotation, the medium gears will rotate half a rotation. And the poor small gears will rotate a full rotation in response.

Imagine that, top management may start a small initiative which requires only small change. Small change from top management's point of view. But it may turn out to be serious change down the organisation.

www.learning-org.com/97.11/0392.html

#learningorg

18 Oct 1997

Job rotation

I've pondered on my posting on Job Rotation last week, and thought of a few more points to consider. Since I'm not an expert in the field, I would like to seek others' opinions on the subject.

What needs to be in place so that job rotation can become an effective tool in organisational learning? Here are my thoughts, in no particular order.

  1. Medium term performance measurement. Performance measurement need to take into account learning curve for the employee who has just been rotated. For example, during his/her first few months on the job, he/she may not be as good as the person he/she replaces, i.e. short term performance will generally be below his/her potential.

  2. Accelerated learning. Knowledge management need to enable the employee to learn the new job's skills fast and effectively, e.g. through well documented processes, job desc, etc.

  3. Optimal tour of duty. The length of one job rotation must be long enough for the person to make a difference for the company and/or for the employee to achieve personal growth milestone. Otherwise the employee may not care to give their best or other job holders may not have enough faith in the employee's suggestions or work plans that they will be carried out to completion.

  4. Job-based business relationship. Business relationship need to be job-based, instead of person-based. The customer/supplier need to be willing to continue the business relationship when their liaison person rotates to a different job. Implicit in this is that they must see only minimal drop in the service quality when their liaison person changes. Of course this applies also to internal customer/supplier, e.g. other departments.

  5. Shared values. The organization as a whole need to share the necessary values. Some examples would be: continuous change, continuous learning, etc. which needs to be compatible with the organization's vision.

  6. Capacity to learn. Having shared values, may not be enough without the capacity and commitment, i.e. capacity and commitment to change which results from capacity and commitment to learn. Continuously.

www.learning-org.com/97.10/0249.html

#learningorg

09 Oct 1997

Partnership

Replying to LO15266

For effective partnership to happen, I would like to add “win-win benefits” to Ian's thoughts. (I also think that Ian's list are what makes the following possible.)

We need to define win-win benefits and terms such that:

  • I need you and you need me
  • I need this partnership to succeed, as much as you do
  • we both gain fairly from the partnership, not from each other
  • we both give fairly with respect to each other's agreement
  • I can only gain my maximum benefit, if and only if you gain yours
  • I have a unique strength that will gain you your benefit, and vice versa
  • the partnership has clear terms on when to end (e.g. the achievement of a specific and measurable objective)
  • you and I are recognized appropriately when the partnership succeeds
  • the partnership has a termination clause that does not harm you or me
  • you and I have compatible values and vision
  • leadership and control of the partnership is well defined and accepted
  • it helps also if there is opportunity to form subsequent partnership when the current partnership ends.

www.learning-org.com/97.10/0139.html

#learningorg